Use of Free Open Source Software in Commercial Packages

One often comes across objections to using free software in commerical packages. These objections are often not based in reality but rather misperceptions, and FUD (Fear, Uncertanity and Doubt).

In this article, I will try to explore these objections, and counter them by facts.

What is Free Software

The term 'free' in free software can be misleading since it is overloaded. Some mean free as being 'gratis' (provided at no cost), where others mean free as in 'liberty' (one can do whatever they want with it).

In addition, the term 'free software' is a very broad term. It includes things like: closed source freeware, closed source shareware, open source freeware. Again, Open Source software is not all the same either. Some of it is under a BSD style license, permitting a company to derive close source software from it, while others are under a GPL style license, which guarantees continued freedom for a product. You can also read a brief comparison of BSD and GPL licenses. Some software has a Lesser, or Library GPL style license, where commerical software can link to free software with each retaining its license.

Fear of Viral Infection

One fear businesses have is the 'viral' nature of the GPL. In other words, if they use a free component, they can be obliged to release all the software's source because the free license 'infected' their software.

While this can be true in some cases, it is not always the case. If the free software has an LGPL option, and the business decides to use it, then they are not compelled to release any of their proprietary code to anyone.

Fear of No Liability

Other companies are worried about the liability part of free software. Since free software is often distributed without cost, it also disclaims any responsibility for liability for its used. However, if one is to read an End User License Agreement (EULA) of any commercial close source software, such as Microsoft Windows or Office, one finds equal disclaimers as well.

Jump on the Bandwagon

From recent announcements, it is apparent that many big companies are embracing free software.

Some develop their software entirely on a free base, such as Apple's Mac OS X, which is based on a NetBSD core. Others are releasing their proprietary code for free to be community maintained, such as Sybase with their flagship database, and Computer Associates with their Ingres. Other companies like IBM releases software every so often for free, and build solutions on other freely available software, for example, the WebSphere suite of products. Moreover, Novel bought SuSE to bolster their Linux strategy. Many networking and embedded products now have Linux as their operating system, such as Linksys wireless routers and network storage devices. Other vendors use it for Personal Video Recorders (PVR's), Personal Digital Assistants (PDA's), cell phones, and MP3 Players. Many products now incorporate Apache, Samba, mini-httpd or thttpd, all free products. EMC has its media storage cluster, Centera, based on Linux. Their are rumors and signs that Sun may open source Solaris 10, their flagship operating system.

Conclusion

While there are some valid concerns in the above, most of them are founded in misperceptions, or inaccurate information. If one is careful to study the license of the software they want to incorporate, free software can provide tremendous leverage for a business. Certainly, many companies are doing so, gaining financial benefits, while provide quality products.

Resources

The following books deal with the subject of Open Source Licensing:

There are also other links you may want to check:

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